A Photographic Look at an Eerily Quiet O’ahu

Hawaiian, Trip Reports

Yesterday I told you about the messy pre-testing program for people going to Hawai’i. I’ll have a full trip report in the future, but I also wanted to carve out a separate special Wednesday post about what it’s like to be on O’ahu with everything shut down. What better way to nurse your post-election hangover regardless of how your candidates did?

[Disclosure: Hawaiian provided free transportation and COVID testing for me and my wife]

In short, it was incredibly strange. Many of the biggest hotels were closed. In fact, not a single true beachfront hotel in Waikiki was open… Hilton Hawaiian Village, Halekulani, Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian, Moana Surfrider… all were shut down. Some have already re-opened since November 1 while others will stay closed for longer, like the Halekulani which is doing a big renovation until next summer.

While the lack of people was odd in general, possibly the strangest thing of all was the complete absence of Japanese travelers. If you’ve ever been to Waikiki, you know just how popular it is among Japanese tourists. Not having them there felt like a key part of the experience was missing.

Follow along below to see what we experienced during our time there.

A sparse Waikiki beach in the evening. You can, however, see a fair number of surfers paddling out in the distance.
Waikiki is lit up after the rain that the Kona winds brought. Note the light designs in the windows of the many empty buildings to prevent them from being dark completely.
The iconic Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu with a quiet lunch crowd. The seating area is closed, but there were tables set up out back with better distancing.
The massive, block-long Waikiki Beach Marriott was completely closed while we were there. It reopened November 1.
The empty sidewalk on the beach side of the Waikiki Beach Marriott. Not only was the hotel closed but so were many if not all of the shops, including the ABC Store you can see here.
Like a time capsule, the numerous kiosks with free “This Week” guides were still stuffed with the April/May editions.
The stately Moana Surfrider was closed with “no trespassing” signs on the doors. When we walked by, a forlorn security guard was usually peeking out.
Waikiki’s upscale International Market Place was very quiet, lacking the usual buzz of Japanese tourists. Many stores were closed while others publicized sales to draw in the sparse crowd.
Standalone shops along Waikiki’s Kalakaua Avenue were mostly closed. Some of the more expensive shops had merchandise removed or, as in this case, windows boarded up.
With Le’ahi (Diamond Head) perched in the distance, some of the more secluded parts of Waikiki Beach remained empty.
The iconic House Without a Key restaurant and its historic kiawe tree at the Halekulani lie behind a chain-link fence as the hotel undergoes renovation.
The usually-grand entrance to the Halekulani hides behind construction fencing as the renovation proceeds.
The Sheraton Waikiki’s tour group loading area is usually bustling with Japanese tourists, but it was completely empty and the hotel was closed.
The main entrance to the Sheraton Waikiki sits behind traffic barricades that couldn’t keep out two curious tourists.
The pathway from the Royal Hawaiian shops to the Royal Hawaiian hotel is blocked by both a wrought iron and chain link fence. The dusty ad for the hotel’s beachfront Mai Tai Bar reminds of a better time.
Our hotel, the Hyatt Place Waikiki, technically had its pool open, but there was virtually no seating available. We didn’t stick around.
To mask the empty rooms, the Waikiki Beach Marriott lights up a red heart on one of its towers.
Our last morning in Waikiki was a sleepy one on the beach.

What we saw in October was really a rare moment in time that doesn’t exist anymore in the same form. Many more hotels have opened, and tourists will start returning at a faster rate. But there’s little question that it will be a long time before O’ahu is back to normal. I’m glad I got to experience this, but I hope I’ll never have to see it this way again.

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10 comments on “A Photographic Look at an Eerily Quiet O’ahu

  1. We have been on Oahu since Oct 18th and are loving our stay at the Marriott in Ko’Olina and enjoying all the restaurants in Kapolei. Your stay is like going to Las Vegas and only visiting the strip.

    IG: worldtravelguy

  2. We have been on Oahu since Oct 18th and are loving our stay at the Marriott in Ko’Olina and enjoying all the restaurants in Kapolei. Your stay is like going to Las Vegas and only visiting the strip.

    IG: worldtravelguy

  3. There have been surreal moments in 2020 that are not likely to be repeated short of the rapture. The likelihood of an acceleration of reopening is increasing.

  4. One year ago today I was in Waikiki staying at the Moana while on a business trip.

    It’s been a long year.

  5. I don’t think the return will be accelerating. Since your visit, visitor arrivals have actually decreased. Week one saw 5k to 8k arrivals per day, and now we’re down to half that. Most hotels state that bookings aren’t moving until around Thanksgiving before dropping off again in December. Most of 2021 remain below 50% too, though hotels say this is subject to change. They notice that reservations drop the closer they get to the date since the pandemic hasn’t changed much.

    Here on Oahu, case rates have been rising again. Our 7-day average and positivity rates have been increasing the past few days. Nothing to get alarmed about, but not great either. If the trend continues over the next two weeks, we’ll slip back into Tier 1 of the reopening plan, putting back many of the capacity restrictions.

    Btw, kudos on using proper Hawaiian names!


    1. Island Miler – I’ve been watching the cases there too. Looks like there was quite a spike yesterday, highest since Oct 9. But one day means nothing, of course. It’s interesting that Maui and Kaua’i have been fine, but the Big Island is also rising.

    2. There is no advance booking curve for anything travel-related right now because it is not necessary due to so much more supply than demand.

      There were certainly some people that had to get in to Hawaii as soon as it opened and they did so when they could.

      There will be people that are booking for Thanksgiving and since that is only a couple weeks away, those bookings are likely to “stick” unless Hawaii closes again or tightens restrictions even more.

      If Hawaii closes again in the near future, they will shoot any chances of anyone being willing to book before this is all over – with Spring Break 2021 likely the earliest that there will be a downturn in cases because of a vaccine or because the virus has run its course.

      Just fyi, the DAILY per capita death rate in a number of European countries is well above the US daily per capita death rate right now. Hawaii has the advantage of being an island which is what New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan have used to keep case numbers very low. But Hawaii is heavily dependent on tourism.

      And, not to turn the discussion political but it does bear noting that it is expected that Republicans will retain control of the Senate; one of the key positions they have taken so far is that they will not bail out states that locked down so hard that they damaged their economies more than the US as a whole. I am not arguing for or against that ;position but simply note it as a key factor. Hawaii’s leaders (along w/ every other state) have to consider that reality when making decisions about how they reopen.

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